Both Art and Science
This article was originally published in the Design 2 Part magazine — October 15, 2012
I have been involved in projects for most of my working career.
As a college undergraduate, I found out about Industrial Engineering. It combined technical knowledge of things along with the people element and working to make businesses run more efficiently and effectively.
I took that learning into the business world. While I became a successful manager and director, I was always looking at how to improve processes, production and systems.
After doing this for over 40 years, I retired from the day to day grind. Now I am working to share my experiences and knowledge of the things I have learned so others can learn from me.
Since I have spent so much time involved in and managing projects, that is a large focus of my writings, speaking and teaching (I am an adjunct professor of Project management at Alvernia University). What I instruct others on is the Art and Science of managing projects. In doing so, here are the things that should be used and done in order to conduct a successful project.
Having been schooled by a consultant who developed a very successful Project Management program at Honeywell, I utilize the three pillars for being a Project Manager, that he espoused. These are:
1. Let your project team know what the ultimate goal (outcome) of the project is. If anything changes, inform the team immediately.
2. Make sure each team member knows what his or her part is and how it affects the other team members. If the goal changes, make sure the responsibilities change in accordance and are promptly communicated to all of the team members.
3. Do not do any project task that a team member is supposed to. The manager’s role is to remove any obstacles that prevent a team member from getting his or her tasks completed. It is the manager’s job to make sure each team member is doing his or her part.
The overarching part of Project Management is communication. It cannot be stressed enough. It can be abused, but if done correctly is what drives the project. That said here are the things a good Project Manager must know and do:
Project Organization and Development
A project is an opportunity for an organization and individuals to achieve business and non-business objectives more efficiently through implementing change. Once the project has been completed, the changes become a part of the daily organizational process and the project itself is closed.
Determining a project need is crucial for successful Project Management. A manager must be able to establish and understand the project need in order to consider and justify it.
There are three steps to work up the idea for a project. More detail is added at each point as you establish that the project is worth progressing. These steps are:
1. The Idea: An overview of the basics of the idea for the project.
2. The Recommendation: An exploration of options that leads to:
· Recommending one
· Recommending not to go ahead after all
· Recommending that while the work should be done, it doesn’t need a project to do it.
3. The Outline Charter: Once a viable project is established, the Outline Charter sets down the scope and an overview business case using project and business expertise.
Project Definition and Justification
Even though a project need has been identified, it still requires approval from its sponsors and stakeholders. There may be a need for many other projects and only so many can be handled at one time. So, qualifying why this particular project needs to be done requires a good justification that makes it a priority over the other possibilities.
By properly explaining that there is a good reason to carry out your project and addressing an imminent need, your proposal has a good chance of being considered and approved. Project justification needs to be carefully researched to support the argument for its approval with facts and data. Some of this can be generic while some should be very specific to it.
As the justification is normally one of the first paragraphs of the project proposal, it should be well written and easily understandable.
Project justification should explain following questions:
· Why is the project necessary?
· What benefits will the project have?
· What positive effects will it have?
· What new chances could open up because of the project?
· What problems will be solved by the project?
Once the Steering Committee accepts the justification and outline, it’s time to start the project itself. That begins with the planning stage. A typical project plan consists of:
· Statement of work
· Resource list (People, budget, equipment, etc.)
· Work breakdown structure
· Project schedule
· Risk plan
These requirements are covered through the following documents:
1. Project Charter: The strategic view of the project. This will be maintained throughout the project and changed if needed. It contains the scope statement that says what the project is, the objectives, who will work on the project, and the full business case for the work.
The project charter typically includes:
· Reasons for the project
· Objectives and constraints of the project
· Who the main stakeholders are
· Potential risks
· Benefits of the project
· Budget overview
2. Project Roles and Responsibilities: With all projects, it is important to define both the team members and what each person’s role and responsibility will be. There should be documents spelling out these responsibilities for each team member. They are to be reviewed with each person, their immediate supervisor and then signed off by them and the Project Manager.
Standard Project Manager duties are:
· Developing the project plan and charter
· Managing the project deliverables according to the plan
· Recruiting, leading and managing the project team
· Establishing a project schedule
· Assigning tasks to the project team members
· Providing regular updates to the Project Steering Committee
Project Team Member
Project team members are the individuals who actively work on one or more phases of the project. Their duties may include:
· Contributing to the overall project objectives
· Completing individual deliverables
· Providing their expertise to the project
· Working to establish and meet business needs
· Documenting the process
The project sponsor is the driver and in-house champion of the project. That person is typically a member of senior management and has a stake in the project’s outcome. That person’s duties are:
· Making key business decisions for the project
· Approving the project budget
· Ensuring availability of project resources
· Communicating the project’s goals throughout the organization
Stage Gate Plan: If the project is large a Stage Gate Plan is a very good idea. This covers the details and complexity of the project and has checkpoints (gates) that must be completed before the work can progress forward. Failure to complete a gate, could lead to stopping or discontinuing the project. For smaller projects, a Stage Gate Plan is not necessary. Instead, the Project Manager should use the Charter, Financial Plan and a Project Schedule.
In the typical Stage-Gate model, there are 5 stages, in addition to a Discovery Stage:
Stage 0 — Discovery
Activities designed to identify new business opportunities and generate new product, service and technology ideas.
Stage 1 — Scope
A quick, inexpensive preliminary investigation and scoping of an idea to better define the concept, assess technical feasibility and to gain insights into commercial prospects.
Stage 2 –Business Case
Detailed investigation involving primary research and experiments leading to a Business Case.
Stage 3 — Develop
Detailed design and development of the new product or service and the design of the operations or production process required for eventual full-scale production.
Stage 4 — Test and Validate
Tests to verify and validate the project.
Stage 5 — Launch
Commercialization of the project.
Other Project Tools
Project financial statements stipulate the snapshot of the current financial situation. Financial statements highlight any overruns or under-runs of the budget.
A project schedule is an outline of the project that organizes its tasks and activities, estimates their durations, identifies the dependencies, sets overall milestones and places all that information on a timeline. It also defines the resources needed to complete these tasks. All the work necessary to complete the deliverables of the project is accounted for in the schedule.
Project schedules are usually created and tracked with project scheduling software, which has features that allow the Project Manager and the team to monitor the progress of the tasks, resources and costs in real time.
Project schedules are created during the planning phase and are crucial to the creation of a project plan, The project schedule is designed to guide the project team throughout the execution phase of the project.
The purpose of a Risk Register is to identify, log, and track potential project risks. Risk Management is a vital component of Project Management because it’s how to proactively combat potential problems or project setbacks.
Any time someone identifies something that could impact the project, it should be assessed by the team and recorded in the risk register.
A risk register is needed because, as projects get larger, longer, and more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on top of everything.
There are many different types of Project Management software packages that can be used including web-based applications, These can be used from just about anywhere as long as you can access the Internet. This tool can juggle all of the project tasks, costs, and certain documents leaving the team free to actually get real work done. Benefits using project management software are:
1. Easy collaboration
2. Better scheduling
3. Tracking of project activities
4. Better project communication
5. Clear delegation of tasks
The change log is a type of documentation that contains the list of changes that are made during the entire project. It tracks the progress of each change based on its review, approval (or rejection), implementation and closure.
The change log also contains the date of the change and its impact on the project in terms of the risk, time to fix and its cost. All changes are relayed to the Sponsor, Steering Committee and stakeholders. Rejected changes are also included in the change log.
Executing a project starts with lining up the project team and any other resources needed. Once you get team members onboard help them to know their assignments, the overall project environment, and their teammates.
The Project Manager should hold a kickoff meeting to describe the mission and get everyone motivated. The project plan is reviewed and communication of how things will work and how to handle change requests is laid out.
A place to store project information including the project plan, specifications, reports, and so on should be set up and easily accessible to the team members.
Project execution is performing all the work identified in the work breakdown structure, At this point monitoring and controlling the project kicks in.
There should be regular updates with the Project Sponsor, the Steering Committee and any key stakeholders. These are set at key milestones, or if a change or major problem occurs. In certain cases a written project report with updates is fine.
Project Completion and Post Mortem
A post project review documents whether the project‘s intended business outcomes and expected benefits were achieved. The review should include:
· Lessons learned
· Highlights of successes and achievements
· Identification of any ongoing activities such as post project support, maintenance.
“Completing a project” is not the same thing as ending the project. Finishing a project doesn’t ensure that the organization completely benefits from the project’s outcome. To make the most of the benefits that the project can deliver, you should check to see if further efforts will deliver greater benefits.
The manager and team should ensure that the lessons learned during the project are not forgotten. Then, the organization can more effectively design and execute future projects by taking advantage of the lessons learned through the experience of this project.
To properly measure a project’s success, the following key questions should be answered:
· Did the project fully solve the problem(s) that it was designed to address?
· Can the company take things further, and deliver even bigger benefits?
· What lessons were learned that can apply to future projects?
It is best to start thinking about the post project review immediately upon completion. All team members should list ideas and observations while they are still fresh in their minds.
To adequately assess the quality of the implementation and complete this process, wait long enough for the changes caused by the project to take effect. This could be weeks or possibly months. So, there may be multiple reviews, one shortly after completion and one once all of the results are in.
Things That Make or Break a Project
Effective communication is defined as the ability to convey information to another effectively and efficiently. Project Managers with good verbal, nonverbal and written communication skills help facilitate the sharing of information between project people for the project’s ultimate success.
Project success depends on effective communication. Good communication maximizes success and minimizes risk. This covers communication with the team, the Project Sponsor, the Steering Committee, and all key stakeholders.
Various types of communication may be involved in the overall planning and execution of the final project. This includes verbal, written, electronic and face-to-face interactions.
Clearly defined job responsibilities and accountabilities
Successful projects are usually the result of careful planning and the talent and collaboration of a project’s team members. This is accomplished through:
· Developing the project plan with the team and managing the team’s performance of each person’s project tasks.
· Securing acceptance and approval of deliverables from the Project Sponsor and the key Stakeholders.
· Communicating the status reporting and escalating the issues that cannot be resolved in and by the team.
Proper use of project meetings
When conducted well, meetings are the best way to share information, solve problems, make decisions and build relationships. When they’re run poorly, they burn up precious time and create frustration
Successful Project Managers typically have extraordinary meeting skills. These cover
1. Project Kickoff Meeting
2. Project Status Meeting
3. Steering Committee Meetings
4. Post Mortem Meeting
There is always a question as to whether Project Management is an art or a science. In my opinion it is a bit of both.
As you read above there has been much thought given to the proper way to run projects. Along with that came the development of tools to assist in the management. So it is science, right?
But anyone who has run a project knows that with the best preparation, funding, and prior project experience, problems crop up that all of the plans and tools won’t solve. And there are the people to deal with. That is always a wildcard and the best books and knowledge don’t prepare you for what to expect from the people involved.
So dealing with all of that becomes an art. That means that Project Management is really an art, right?
Actually, it is a combination of the two. And the proportion that each plays a part in a project depends upon the circumstances involved. Fairly easy and free flowing projects are a bit more science related. Those that are bigger, longer and have more issues can rely more on the art part.
A good Project Manager realizes this and acts accordingly. A one size fits all process won’t cut it. To try to make that happen can end in a project disaster.
Managing a project can be extremely rewarding. There is nothing like tackling a challenging problem and getting the outcome that was expected. But, it can also be one of the most frustrating experiences you encounter. The road from start to finish can be long, bumpy and winding. A good Project Manager earns his or her money by dealing with the bumps and twists and turns. And in doing so, becomes a valuable asset to the organization.